Historically speaking, the NFC East features some of the most successful franchises in NFL History. The Dallas Cowboys have appeared in eight Super Bowls, tied for the second-most appearances of any team, winning five, also tied for the second-most in league history. The New York Giants have won four of five Super Bowl appearances, and unseated the previously undefeated 2007-2008 New England Patriots (widely considered to be one of the best if not the best teams in NFL history) in Super Bowl XLII. Washington’s franchise, under the Washington Redskins team moniker, appeared in five Super Bowls, winning three. And though they’ve only won once, the Philadelphia Eagles have appeared in three Super Bowls, rounding out the division.
But these are not your father’s Giants, Cowboys, or Eagles. Though the Dallas Cowboys with a healthy Dak Prescott present the biggest threat in the NFC East, it’s doubtful that the eventual Super Bowl champion comes out of this division. The NFC East winner has been the fourth seed in the NFC playoffs, in other words, the lowest-finishing division winner in the conference, for three straight seasons. Last year, Washington Football Team earned the NFC East title at a measly 7-9, one game ahead of the 6-10 Giants and Cowboys.
With Dak Prescott back under center, the Cowboys will look to return to form with one of the league’s top passers. The Giants will also rely on a player returning from injury, running back Saquon Barkley, to ignite their offense. Washington has a talented roster, but can they repeat as division champs with Ryan Fitzpatrick taking Alex Smith’s place as a starter? For the Eagles, it’s likely to be a transition year with Jalen Hurts likely to assume starting duties.
Read on for my full NFC East predictions, and be sure to check out other divisions for my full picks as the 2021-22 NFL season approaches.
- AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West
- NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
- Playoff Predictions and Super Bowl Matchup
- Other Seasons: 2020-21, 2019-20
1. Dallas Cowboys (10-7)
Not may teams in the NFL have a quarterback-running back tandem quite like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot. The Dallas Cowboys have won the NFC East twice in Prescott’s five seasons as a starter, with the quarterback being selected to the Pro Bowl each of those seasons. When Prescott is playing well, the Cowboys are a tough matchup for any opponent. Dallas started just 2-3 last season with Prescott under center, but suffered some tough losses. Prescott was throwing an eye-popping 371.2 yards per game through five games, and would have been on pace for a record-breaking 5,939 yards over a sixteen-game season.
Washington had a solid season to earn the division crown last year, but there was a strong sense that if Prescott never went down, the standings would have played out differently.
The time is now for the Cowboys to try and compete, as gradual wear and tear builds up on Elliot. There’s little question that Prescott will be able to light up the scoring board again, but for the Cowboys to be successful, Dallas’ defense will need to improve. The Cowboys defense gave up 29.6 points per game last season, the fifth-worst mark in the NFL.
Dallas didn’t make any big splashes in free agency, raising questions to just how much the defense can improve. They did load up on the defensive side of the ball in the draft, selecting six defensive players in the first four rounds of the draft, highlighted by 12th overall pick Micah Parson, a linebacker out of Penn State.
Dallas will have one of the hardest offenses in the league to stop, but a defense that is still prone to giving up points. Prescott and the Cowboys will still win more often than not, earning the division’s top spot with an above average 10-7 record. Once again, this will make the NFC East winner the fourth seed in the playoffs.
T-2. New York Giants (7-10)
Tied for second in the NFC East, with just one more win than last year even with a 17-game season, is the New York Giants. Don’t get me wrong, the Giants will be better than last season, especially with a healthy Saquon Barkley at their disposal. In a best-case scenario, the Giants could finish 9-8 and maybe steal the NFC East or a wildcard spot depending on how the rest of the division and league pans out. But as currently constructed, the Giants don’t appear to be a playoff team quite yet.
The Giants middle-of-the-road ceiling starts with quarterback Daniel Jones. While Jones qualifies as a top 32 NFL quarterback, and therefore worthy of a starting job, that’s about as much praise as I can give the third-year Duke quarterback right now. Jones is 8-18 as a starter through two seasons, with 35 passing touchdowns to 22 interceptions. Jones is also a notorious fumbler, with 29 career fumbles in 27 career appearances. For the Giants to improve, Jones has to take better care of the ball.
The Giants signed wide receiver Kenny Golladay in the offseason, and with Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram also on offense, the Giants should be able to put up some more points than last season. There’s hardly anywhere to go but up in this category, as the Giants scored just 17.5 points per game last year, the second-worst mark in the league.
Defensively, the Giants have become a sound team. With Leonard Williams, Jabril Peppers, Logan Ryan, Dexter Lawrence III, and the newly-signed Adoree Jackson patrolling the field on defense, New York should be able to keep most games within reach.
Unfortunately, with a tough schedule and mediocre quarterback, the Giants finish 7-10, three games behind a playoff position via either the division title or a wildcard spot.
T-2. Washington Football Team (7-10)
Washington Football Team has a well-rounded roster, with young talent that should see improvements from year-to-year. But losing Alex Smith and replacing him with Ryan Fitzpatrick is a downgrade, no matter how you splice it. Washington will still be a decent team, probably better than many people expect, but 6-10 to 8-9 seems like a reasonable range for where Washington’s record will fall in 2021-22.
Fitzpatrick was an on-and-off starter for the Miami Dolphins last season, finishing with a 4-3 record as a starter with 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a laser 68.5% completion percentage. Smith didn’t light it up with passing numbers, tossing just six touchdowns against eight interceptions, but made his impact felt with a 5-1 record as a starter.
Fitzpatrick is liable for some up-and-down play, and has only been a full-time starter once in the last four seasons. Throw in the fact he’ll turn 39 in November, and it seems unlikely Fitzpatrick will start all 17 games. Kyle Allen (7-10) and Taylor Heinicke (0-1) have limited NFL starting experience, and probably can’t propel Washington to the postseason if Fitzpatrick goes down.
On defense, second year defensive end Chase Young will be a pleasure to watch. Washington’s defense allowed just 20.6 points per game last season, the third-best mark in the league. Even with Fitzpatrick can’t put up huge numbers on offense, Washington’s defense can keep the team competitive over the course of the season, giving way to a solid yet still underwhelming 7-10 finish.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (4-13)
The Philadelphia Eagles went 4-11-1 last season, tied for the fourth-worst record in the league. Philadelphia also officially ended the Carson Wentz era, sending the often successful but also injury prone Eagles quarterback to the Indianapolis Colts. The Eagles are likely to roll with second-year Alabama and Oklahoma signal-caller Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Hurts went 1-3 as a starter last season with a laughable 52.0% completion percentage, and even if he improves as an NFL passer, the Eagles roster doesn’t have enough talent to climb out of the NFC East cellar.
Hurts and the Eagles do get a boost, however, in first-round round draft selection and Heisman trophy-winning wide receiver out of Alabama, DeVonta Smith. The rest of the Eagles receiving corps isn’t exactly threatening, and neither is Philadelphia’s running back committee. From a points allowed standpoint, the Eagles defensive unit was below average, allowing 26.1 points per game, the 13th-worst mark in the league.
The Eagles offensive line also needs bolstering,as they struggled to keep Wentz and Hurts upright last season.
In a best-case scenario, Hurts takes a big step up in year two, and Smith emerges as a top receiving threat in the NFL. If everything goes right, I could see the Eagles finishing as high as 7-10. In a worst-case scenario, Hurts doesn’t improve much, and in an absolute disaster situation, Joe Flacco is forced to take over as the starting quarterback. Philadelphia could finish as low as 2-15, though I think four or five wins is a more realistic benchmark.
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